Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre's emergency department continues to be open and operational. (File photo by Advocate staff)

More than 200 surgeries postponed in Central zone

As COVID-19 cases climb in the province, Central zone has not been immune to cancelled surgeries.

Last week, AHS said up to 40 percent of endoscopy procedures and up to 30 per cent of scheduled surgeries will be postponed in the local zone. This week, the agency provided numbers: 207 surgeries between Sept. 6 and Sept. 20 have been postponed at surgical facilities in the zone.

A breakdown of hospital-specific data was not provided on Friday.

“Postponing surgeries is not an easy decision and is not made lightly. We recognize that postponing a procedure is stressful and difficult for our patients and their loved ones,” AHS said in an email statement this week.

“However, we simply do not have enough resources at this time to meet the demands. By postponing procedures that can safely be delayed, we can redeploy resources, including staffing, to areas of greatest need to ensure care is available for those in critical need.”

As of Thursday, there are 102 people in hospital with COVID-19 in the zone, including 17 in intensive care.

AHS president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu explained in a press conference Thursday the process that goes into postponing surgeries. She said the decision is “clinically based” using a triage document created by physicians.

“As is the case with all surgeries, clinicians triage cases based on priority. The most serious and urgent cases are performed first. This has happened in previous waves and is standard in every health care system in the country,” she said.

Across the province, there are 679 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 154 in intensive care. Earlier this week, the Calgary zone had to cancel all elective surgeries and a number of outpatient procedures because of rising COVID-19 numbers.

Hospitals simply don’t have the ability to care for all the COVID-19 patients that are being admitted and provide post-surgery care for those who need it, as well as emergency surgery care, explained Yiu.

“Some patients will require intensive care after their surgery. They have to spend a couple of days in ICU as they recover so that our frontline team can monitor them and keep them well. This happens in both planned and unplanned ways.

“We currently just don’t have the capacity to provide that care, while also ensuring we have the capacity to look after patients who are very ill with COVID-19, as well as patients who suffer a trauma of some sort, such as injuries from a car accident or an emergency like a heart attack or stroke.

”We have to postpone, non-urgent, scheduled surgeries, to ensure we have the space, the staff, physicians and the resources to care for those who need it.”

Yiu noted the province’s ICU capacity sits at 87 per cent, including surge capacity that they’ve created. She said if they weren’t able to add surge beds, the province would be at more than 130 per cent capacity in the ICU.

“Our provincial health care system is experiencing significant capacity challenges. We continue to do all that we can to increase capacity, particularly in our ICUs, where pressure on our staff, physicians and resources is intense,” Yiu said.

Although the province did try and open up hospital bed capacity Thursday, some suggest that’s not enough. Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro announced that the province has earmarked $36 million to help move more than 400 patients out of hospital and into continuing care facilities or into home care.

Alberta’s NDP health critic David Shepherd believes that move is too little, too late.

“We are seeing more deaths, a spike in hospitalizations and the mass cancellation of surgeries for Albertans who are sick and suffering and the government has given up,” he said.

“We are no longer stopping the spread of COVID-19, we are only making more room for Albertans to suffer or even die from it and that includes some who did the right thing and got their shots.”